In this workshop you will learn basic plant morphology with a focus on the structures necessary for plant identification. Participants will learn the specialized terminology necessary to identify plants in 15 common California plant families. This workshop will include 2 days of classroom exercises and one full day in the field. Read on for more details.

Introduction to Plant Identification

June 7-9, 2022
Carmichael, CA (Sacramento County)
Taught by Sandy Namoff & Nick Jensen

CNPS Members $525 / Non-Members $550
Capacity: 20 participants
Last Day to Register: May 24, 2022



Target Audience: This workshop will be taught at a beginner level and is open to anyone interested in learning about or improving their knowledge of plant terminology and the characteristics of common plant families, and becoming competent at plant keying using the Jepson Manual and online resources. Those just entering the world of plant identification will benefit from learning the diagnostic characteristics of the most important plant families in California. Those with prior plant identification experience will be able to refresh their skills and increase their proficiency with more difficult groups such as the Poaceae (grasses) and Asteraceae (sunflowers). Emphasis will be placed on common groups of plants in Northern California; however, information learned in this class will be readily applicable throughout California and the world.

Full Description: This is a 3-day introductory workshop. We will begin by teaching basic plant morphology with a focus on the structures necessary for plant ID. Participants will learn the specialized terminology necessary to identify plants in 15 common California plant families. These families contain more than 5000 taxa, which account for more than 70% of the plant diversity in California. Learning the characteristics of these plant families will reduce the amount of time required to key down to the species level. We will utilize live material and taxonomic keys to better understand morphology in each family. Scientific names, along with common names, will be used throughout the workshop. The class will include 2 days of classroom presentations and exercises and one full day in the field. Common native families, genera, and species will be covered, including species in conifer forest, oak woodland, montane chaparral, and meadows.

At the end of the workshop students can test their newly acquired knowledge by participating in an optional plant families identification game. A certificate of completion will be provided after the course.

Participants will learn:

  • Basic plant morphology terminology
  • How to recognize 15 families of vascular plants encompassing 70% of the plant diversity in California
  • How to identify some common tree, shrub, and herbaceous species by sight
  • Tips for remembering the differences between similar plant families and species
  • How to use dichotomous keys for plant identification including The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition
  • Additional resources available to help identify plants

The following plant families will be covered: Apiaceae (parsley), Asteraceae (sunflower), Brassicaceae (mustard), Caryophyllaceae (pink), Cyperaceae (sedge), Ericaceae (heather), Fabaceae (pea), Lamiaceae (mint), Onagraceae (evening primrose), Orobanchaceae (broomrape), Poaceae (grass), Plantaginaceae (plantain), Polemoniaceae (phlox), Polygonaceae (buckwheat), Rosaceae (rose).

Schedule & Locale

Tuesday, June 7

Meet at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center Assembly Building. Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:30 am Meet and greet; welcome and orientation

9:00 am Classroom introduction to plant morphology and taxonomy

10:00 am Brassicaceae, Onagraceae, Apiaceae, Fabaceae, Boraginaceae, Polygonaceae

Noon Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm CA plant diversity lecture

1:30 pm Polemoniaceae, Rosaceae, Lamiaceae, Plantaginaceae, Orobanchaceae, Ericaceae, Caryophyllaceae

3:45 pm Plant keying practice / demonstration

5:00 pm Break for the day

Wednesday, June 8

Meet at designated location, carpool to field site. All day in the field practicing sight ID/keying selected plant families/genera.

8:30 am Meet at designated location, carpool to field site

Noon Lunch in the field (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm Continued field study

5:00 pm Return to cars & break for the day

Thursday, June 9

Meet at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center Assembly Building. Indoor lab/lecture all day.

8:30 am Asteraceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae

10:00 am Plant identification and keying practice

Noon Lunch break (please bring your own lunch and water)

1:00 pm Continued plant identification and keying practice

3:30 pm Reflection activities, course evaluations

5:00 pm Workshop concludes

Schedule subject to change.

Venue: Classroom portions of this workshop will be held at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center Assembly Building in the Jo Smith room, located at 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael, CA. Field exercises will take place nearby at sites still to be determined. Additional details will be provided to registered participants about a week before the workshop.

Materials & Requirements

Please bring...

  • Hand lens, metric ruler
  • Clipboard, field notebook, pencils, scotch tape, bags for collecting plant material
  • Sturdy shoes/boots, hat, weather-appropriate field clothing (e.g. protection from rain, sun, heat/cold, insects, etc.)
  • The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Packable lunch, plenty of water and snacks for all 3 days

Materials Provided: CNPS will provide handouts, dissecting microscopes, technical references, and online resources. We will send some advance materials on plant structure terminology.

Physical Requirements: Participants should be physically able to walk up to a mile at a time on narrow and uneven paths, along roads, and trails, and remain outside for up to a total of 8 hours. The workshop will be held rain or shine. We will likely spend most of our time between sea level and 2,000 feet in elevation. We will spend approx. 33% of the time in the field.

COVID Protocols: All workshop participants need to be fully vaccinated or receive a negative COVID-19 lab test result within three days of the workshop, providing proof of vaccination/test before attending.*

About the Instructors

Sandy Namoff

Sandy Namoff, PhD, completed her graduate research in botany at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG)/Claremont Graduate University investigating evolutionary processes that have shaped the CA bindweeds, Calystegia. Sandy obtained her B.S. in Biology from Florida International University and was a research assistant for the Palm Biology Program at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Since moving to CA in 2010 she has become interested in the CA Floristic Province and its plant communities. As an instructor, Sandy has taught at CA State University Fullerton, the Claremont Colleges, and Chaffey College. She has also been an instructor for numerous plant related courses and workshops at California Botanic Garden and the Theodore Payne Foundation. She works as a consulting botanist and has been writing a wildflower field guide for the California Native Plant Society.

Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen completed his PhD in botany at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG)/Claremont Graduate University. His research interests include biogeography, rare plant conservation, and biodiversity. His research projects include the flora of Tejon Ranch, threats to CA’s rare plants, and evolutionary relationships in Streptanthus (jewelflowers). Nick has a B.S. in Environmental Horticulture from UC Davis and previously served as the Rare Plant Program Director for CNPS. He is currently a member of the CNPS Rare Plant Program Committee, served as Southern California Botanists president in 2015-2016, and is a fellow of the Switzer Foundation. Over the past decade Nick has led dozens of field trips, and has taught numerous workshops on plant taxonomy and basic botany for organizations including CNPS, Theodore Payne Foundation, Friends of the Jepson Herbarium, and RSABG. He has also worked as a botanist for the US Forest Service, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the private consulting industry. Nick is currently the CNPS Southern CA Conservation Analyst.


Before registering, please review our full workshop cancellation policy and participant expectations. The last day to cancel your registration for this workshop and receive any refund (less the cancellation fee) is Tuesday, May 24, 2022. For other ways to register, please see our full registration & payment policy.

Did you know CNPS members get discounts on workshops? If you’re not a current member, you can join or renew now before completing the registration form below to qualify for special members-only rates!

The Introduction to Plant Identification Workshop is full, registration is now closed.

Scholarships Available

CNPS is committed to reducing barriers and broadening participation in our workshops. We are offering financial support opportunities for students and early professionals who may not otherwise be able to attend. This scholarship will cover the cost of one CNPS plant science workshop. In some instances, CNPS will also provide monetary assistance for travel and accommodations. 

The scholarship form is due four weeks before the workshop date that you would like to attend. You will be notified within three weeks of the workshop date about the financial aid determination. Please click here to fill out the form to be considered as a potential recipient of a workshop scholarship.